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KABOOM INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL ONLINE from Amsterdam - 27 March - 3 April 2021

Kaboom International Animation Festival burst onto my television screen with a spectacular shower of films and fun.

Kaboom Lit Up the Sky with A BIG BANG!

Kaboom International Animation Festival burst onto my television screen with a spectacular shower of films and fun.  Even though we couldn’t all be there together in person, Midnight Madness brought us all together when each viewer was projected onto the screen in tiny little squares.

The festival screened three hundred thirty-three films of which thirteen were feature films, and this year Kaboom introduced a brand-new annual award. I was honored that the festival selected me to give The Nancy Award. I could select any one film in competition to give my award to, and the winner received a Kaboom trophy with a very fitting special present - a wine tasting with me during next year's festival.

Nancy presenting the Nancy Award

It was a very difficult decision deciding who to give the award to this year as there were so many excellent films. I finally decided that I would award a film that was not only exceptionally good but that people might not go to see because it is based on a classic Russian story by Gogol and the opera by Shostakovich. My award went to Russian animator Andrey Kinzanovsky for his feature film The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks.

The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks

The film treats history in an irreverent manner while conveying the horrors of the early 20th Century. The one-hour twenty-minute stop motion opera is a cheerfully grim look at the follies of the period. You don’t have to be a student of Russian history to appreciate the absurdity of the situation that Gogol depicted in his book The Nose and that Shostakovich set to music in his opera of the same name. The film is rich and complex. The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks won a Special Jury Prize for the best feature film at Annecy in 2020 as well as the European Film Award for the Best Animated Feature Film.

In honor of the establishment of The Nancy Award, I was invited to curate a program of films that changed my life to celebrate the new yearly Nancy Award. I had a hard time narrowing my selection down to just eight films, ranging from Monique Renault’s 1980 Borderline 1 + 2 to the 2013 Brutus by Svetlana Filippova. I also prerecorded an introduction to my program.

One highlight of the 7 shorts competition screenings was Affairs of the Art, the long-awaited new film by Joanna Quinn and writer/producer Les Mills. It continues the thirty-three-year-long journey of Beryl which began with the hilarious Girl’s Night Out, Joanna’s graduation film, in 1988. In that film, she goes with a group of “the girls” to a club with male strippers.

Beryl’s evolution and her search for a meaningful career in her latest film give us a closer look at our heroine’s childhood and her family. Her older sister Beverly plays a prominent role in Affairs of the Arts; her husband becomes her “muse” and model, and for the first time we also meet her geeky son, Colin.

This sixteen-minute film takes Beryl and her family to a whole new level of eccentricity as they unleash their obsessions with drawing, pet taxidermy, and everything in between. If you haven’t seen the other three Beryl films, I suggest that you pop a big bowl of popcorn, open a bottle of wine, and spend a delightful evening with the endearing, madcap Welsh woman Beryl.

I don’t know what they are putting in the water in Switzerland but they are turning out some very wacky films. Why Slugs Have No Legs by Aline Hochli definitely qualifies in that category. The 10-minute film is about slugs and how they have a hard time keeping up with the pace of life in the fast-paced city of insects.

Why Slugs Have No Legs

When a recession becomes a financial crisis in the insect city, the industrious bees see a solution; get rid of the slow working slugs. They, much like women in today’s society, become the first casualty on the workplace treadmill. The slugs don’t seem to be bothered. They drive off in their very funny-looking car to home where they begin to party.

Lest this sound like a dreary film, it is anything but that. I never thought that I would find slugs endearing and humorous but these three are. The background art is delightfully quirky and colorful. The song that runs through the film composed by Thomas and Samuel Schranz will start your toe-tapping and then you won’t be able to stop humming it.

I have been a fan of Russian animator Sasha Svirsky’s work ever since I saw his 2010 film Sirens. His films have always been off-beat, original, and extremely experimental. His latest film My Galactic Twin Galaction takes his work in a different but equally excellent and entertaining direction. Unlike his previous films, which do not have a distinct, recognizable plot, this six-and-a-half-minute film is about a guy who receives a strange email from a previously unknown to him galactic twin named Galaction. His twin tells him that there is trouble in a neighboring galaxy caused by an evil force and Galaction asks his twin to join the struggle against evil. The film is colorful, full of humor, and violence. My Galactic Twin Galaction premiered at the Berlinale in 2020.

The twenty-six films in the two Dutch competition programs are proof that animation production is alive and thriving in The Netherlands. See Me by Patty Stenger and Yvonne Kroese is about a small girl with very freaky eyes. She is the only child amid an adult cocktail party and she might as well be invisible because no one notices her, not even her own mother. Her imagination begins to run wild as the legs of an adult become wooden tree branches. A small Pekingese turns into a gigantic monster and the sardines on the canapés appear to be alive. She has to do something very drastic to get the adults’ attention, and she does. The nine-minute film took home the Best Dutch Film Award. A list of all of the winning films is at the end of this article.

See Me

Junaid Chundrigar scripted and directed Hideous Henk originally for the pilot contest “3 LAB” for Dutch television. The nine-minute film is about an ugly little chihuahua who gets adopted from the dog pound by a young woman. Henk is very excited with visions of delicious meals and a comfy bed. When it turns out that his new owner only wants to use him to get more Instagram followers by dressing him up in silly outfits, he tries desperately to escape. Every attempt that he makes to get away from her and her cute doggie clothes only makes him more popular on the site. The humorous television series is aimed at young adults. I found it a very funny film since I live with a little dog who has quite a wardrobe herself.

Hideous Henk

The New Directions Program was devoted to voices from countries that do not have a tradition of making animated films or are underrepresented in European cinemas. The little trip around the world took the audience to such far-flung places as Cypress, Moldova, Indonesia, Uganda, Lebanon, Columbia, Syria, and the Dominican Republic.

The Off Beat Shorts program was curated by animator Paul Bush and Kaboom staffer Anna Eijsbouts. All of the films were totally off the beaten track storywise, or in the technique used, or both. According to the curators’ statement “ . . . these animated shorts bring something you never knew you wanted”. As I watched the sixteen films in the program, some no more than two or three minutes long, I did find myself thinking why am I watching this? But I was too intrigued to see what would come next to turn the films off.

Among the Off Beat shorts, UK animator Ollie Magee took solving the challenge to an extreme, of wrestling with a favorite character who keeps getting in the way of the story but who you can’t bear to cut out of the film in his four-minute film Nod.Wink.Horse. In this case, the character is a horse. Magee said that it was one of those films that really evolved throughout production. “What began as quite a linear, quite conventional narrative around these characters, gradually deteriorated into this horse-obscured anti-narrative film. In the end, it was about reflecting on my own emotional response to the film. Indulging my own self-doubt and using those self-destructive habits as creative tools.”

Nod.Wink.Horse

It really IS a film with a paper cut-out horse standing in front of a group of diners, a kitchen porter, and a dog. The horse always blocks out most of the cinematic interaction between the group to one degree or another. As far as what the film is trying to say, Ollie’s comment is “Any interpretation is as valid as my own. Nod.Wink.Horse was his graduation film from the Royal College of Art and was shot on a multiplane with oil-painted paper puppets.

Also in the Off Beat Shorts program was Diek Grobler’s animated poem Breath. The experimental three-minute fifty-five-second stop motion piece reflects the anxiety of the South African artists involved as fear around the COVID-19 virus grew as South Africa went into lockdown on Friday the 27th of March. Everyone working on the film went into self-isolation, and the small team managed to make the film in one week.

Diek Grobler working on Breath

Via email, Diek wrote me that prior to the lockdown he had been doing some experiments with animating objects on his multiplane shooter. The objects, which were abstract and geometrical, were moved around to test some ideas. When lockdown happened, having a minute or so of little bits and pieces, he lumped them all together, and “when I watched it back, it reflected the anxiety of the moment because of the pacing, and because the individual fragments were quite disjointed”. Diek sent the piece to musician/composer Mart-Marie Snyman who read the same anxiety into the film that he felt. The music definitely heightens the tension that you feel when you are watching the three-minute fifty-five-second film.

Gerrit van Dijk

Renowned Dutch animator Gerrit van Dijk passed away in 2012. During the final 6 months of his life, he made one drawing a night to create his last animated film, The Last Picture Show. Filmmaker Emma Westermann documented the final months of van Dijk’s life and the nightly drawings that he created in her fifty-six-minute film Counting My Drawings, which was screened at the festival.

Kaboom also paid tribute to Gerrit with a retrospective of his work. The screening included the 2 films for which the multi-award-winning director received Golden Bears at the Berlinale, the 1988 Pas a Deux which he made with his sister-in-law Monique Renault and I Move So I Am (1997). The program ended with The Last Picture Show, a lovely tribute to an influential Dutch animator.

Pas à deux

The festival offered the opportunity to binge-watch 5 episodes of the 3rd season of Cartoon Network’s Summer Camp Island. In Julia Pott’s long-running television series, best friends Oscar Peltzer and Hedgehog enter a magical summer camp by mistake and go on bizarre adventures. It was the evening for beer and potato chips.

Kaboom featured several live online events. Beryl Exposed --- The Naked Truth was a conversation between Joanna Quinn, Les Mills, and Kaboom programmer Anna Eijsbouts. Joanna is always entertaining and humorous and Les is quite droll, so any conversation with the pair is always delightful.

  The couple founded Beryl Productions in the 1980s. The studio is named after their comical and loveable star of four of their films. They have gone on to make numerous other films including Famous Fred (1996) and The Wife of Bath (1998) which have been nominated for Oscars. Their films, which are beautifully drawn by Joanna and written and produced by Les, have won numerous awards at festivals. They are also well known for their commercial work such as the Charmin Toilet Paper bear.

Joanna Quinn and Les Mills toast with interview host Anna Eijsbouts

While the pair chatted with Anna about their studio and their latest Beryl film, they sipped Beryl Cocktails, which the festival staff had created especially for them. If you want to sip a Beryl while watching Affairs of the Art at your next online festival here is the recipe:

Put ice in a champagne glass

Pour in 40 to 50 ml. gin

Add 125 ml. rose lemonade

In a small bowl mix blue curacao with whipped cream and layer it on top of the drink

Garnish with rose petals

The drink is not only delicious, but it is also as colorful as Beryl.

From his New York apartment, the always brilliantly hued Tom C. J. Brown (T.O.M., 2007; The Event, 2012; Teeth, 2015;) talked about the subject How to Sell Out And Be Happy. As a freelancer in the world of advertising, pitching is an important part of Tom’s work life.

 During his session, he shared some of his tried and true techniques on how to impress a prospective client, or as Tom puts it “. . . how to profit and be joyful from selling your soul and creative spirit to the devil”.

Tom C. J. Brown

       In Tom’s spare time he performs live with the audiovisual duo Magnetic Foragers. He also showed us his lockdown project. During his time at home, he built a harp. He talked about his love of music and even revealed that his secret desire is to be director of the Metropolitan Opera. His talk was an hour of good advice coupled with a lot of entertainment.

     Along with excellent programs, Kaboom is about fun and getting everyone into the act. The Kaboom Improv Orchestra was all about participation and having fun. First the online “musicians”’ built their instruments with whatever they had around the house, mostly cardboard and paper. Then there was a rehearsal and finally, they created a soundtrack for the Fleisher Brothers silent animation Sing, You Sinners. You can watch the entire process from making the instruments to the performance at Kaboom Improve Orchestra on YouTube. Why not build your own instrument along with the other participants and play along with the video.

          Women Watching Porn is an educational podcast about female pleasure, hosted by Laura, Cris, and Maxi. Episode 25 was presented at Kaboom as part of the festival live events. The discussion ranged from porn ethics and female pleasure to the perverse appeal of the unreal.

     Films shown as part of the Women Watching Porn event included episodes one to three of Signe Baumane’s Teat Beat of Sex and Vagina by Dutch animator Andreia Dobrota. For this episode of their podcast the ladies were joined by award-winning porn director Jennifer Lyon Bell. After earning a BA in Psychology from Harvard University, Bell moved to Amsterdam where she received an MA in Film and Television Studies from the University of Amsterdam. With Blue Artichoke Films in Amsterdam, she mixes arthouse films and documentaries with pornography. Her film Wild Card was screened as part of Women Watching Porn segment. You can watch their Kaboom podcast and find a list of the films they screened along with links to them on their website at: womenwatchingporn.com

     Day one of the two-day Industry Days was devoted to examining the future of the industry and film educational institutions in The Netherlands. I enjoyed the studio presentations by five of the leading studios in the country: Ambassadors, Blender, Holy Motion, Morphle, and Submarine. They are all very different. Because the visits had to be done in Zoom, we received actual tours of the studios instead of presentations from a stage with slides. Seeing the actual studios is a lot more interesting as we were able to see how each studio is set up. It gave us a clear idea of the work capabilities and style of each one.

     The second Industry Day was devoted to Young Professionals. Industry films are not made alone. When the film credits roll what does each person do exactly? What jobs are available in the industry after graduation? Professionals with different skills talked about their career paths and what their role is in the production of a film.

The newest graduates from The Netherlands film schools had a chance to be introduced to the audience and show their graduation film or showreel. This was followed by the opportunity to have one on one meetings with industry professionals.

     This year Belgian animator Britt Raes (Childs Play, Catherine) was a member of the jury. She loves to draw animal role reversals where the owner becomes the animal’s pet. People were invited to send in a video of them with their pets along with a story about the four-legged members of their family. Four were chosen to appear live via zoom to tell the story while Britt drew them. Miss Coco Chanel, Nik and I were selected and the lovely drawing of the three of us is a perfect reminder of an extremely special edition of Kaboom. You can check out Britt’s flipped portraits  on her Instagram site @We_are_petlovers

Britt Rae's drawing

     There were so many excellent programs that it was impossible to watch everything. The technicians did a beautiful job and from this side of the zoom screen, everything looked good. No matter what, we all know that nothing compares to being at a festival live, but Kaboom came as close as possible with its online interactive events and excellent programs.

Festival director Aneta Ozorek with Kaboom friend

     I want to thank the festival’s Artistic Director Aneta Ozorek for creating The Nancy Award and Maarten van Gageldonk, Head Programmer, for answering all of my questions so promptly. The exact date for the 2022 edition has not been set yet but it will be sometime in the Spring. You can find out more about this year’s festival and keep up to date with what is happening at Kaboom on the website: kaboomfestival.nl


THE AWARD WINNERS

Best Short Film
Joanna Quinn & Les Mills 
Film: Affairs of the Art 
Jury: Britt Raes
, Andrea Möller
, Tom CJ Brown  

Best Student Short 
Julia Orlik 
Film: I’m Here 
Jury: Britt Raes
, Andrea Möller
, Tom CJ Brown  

Best Documentar
Elsa Duhamel 
Film: Bach-Hông 
Jury: Ng’endo Mukii, Johan Gijsen, David Kamp 

Best Dutch Short 
Patty Stenger & Yvonne Kroese 
Film: See Me 
Jury: Ng’endo Mukii, Johan Gijsen, David Kamp

Best Music Video
Kyoung-bae Kim
Film: Seoulsori
Jury: Britt Raes
, Andrea Möller
, Tom CJ Brown 

Best VR
Leon Roggisart & Paul Boereboom
Film: Ascension
Jury: Paulien Dresscher, Ricardo Laganaro, Bogomir Doringer 

Best Experimental Film
Maja Gehrig
Film: Average Happiness 

Best Commissioned Film
Sjaak Rood
Film: Jabberwocky 

Nancy Award
Andrey Khrzhanovsky
Film: The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks
Jury: Nancy Denney-Phelps

Best Feature Film
Kenji Iwaisawa
Film: On–Gaku: Our Sound 

Best Children’s Film  
Max Lang & Daniel Snaddon  
Film: The Snail and the Whale 

Special Mention for Best Documentary 
Camila Kater
Film: Flesh

Special Mention for Best Dutch Film 
Vera van Wolferen
Film: Tourist Trap

Special Mention for Best VR 
Michelle & Uri Kranot
Film: The Hangman at Home

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